Your season opening defeat of a Big 10 rival left the fans rushing onto the field, but your game 2 loss to a Division 1AA team reminded fans of the failures of years past. Fans were predicting a Heisman bid for your starting tailback, but his per-run average dropped from 4.1 to 3.7 yards per attempt as the inside running game failed. You've been called a defensive genius, but your defense gave up 343 points. Some considered your defensive line to be among the most talented in the conference, yet opponents rushed for over 2400 yards while your running game gained less than 1200. Time and time again your defense was embarrassed by option offenses and scrambling quarterbacks.
The fans are screaming for your head.
The alumni have lost faith in you.
The local high school stars are leaving for out-of-state college programs.
You're on the hot seat. You need to do something big. Really big. You may be running out of chances.
Greg Schiano's answer was nearly a complete overhaul of the coaching staff with three new assistants and nearly every remaining coach assuming new responsibilities.
After last year's departure of Offensive Line Coach Mario Cristobal, Linebacker Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receiver Coach Darrell Hazell and Secondary Coach Scott Lakatos, Schiano patched the holes in the coaching staff, but did so primarily with young, inexperienced coaches. Those coaches struggled in 2004. One has been dismissed and another is reassigned to a minor position.
This year after the departures of Defensive Coordinator Paul Ferraro, Defensive Line Coach Randy Melvin and Programs Coordinator Mike Miello, Schiano once again needed to make major changes, this time mostly on the defense.
Schiano surprised fans in February by first hiring a new Offensive Line coach, 34 Year old Kyle Flood from Atlantic-10 (Division 1AA) Co-champion Delaware. Despite an outcry in the press, Schiano was not to be rushed, and fans had to wait until March 7 for Coach Schiano to finally announce the makeup of the 2004 coaching staff and the hires of two new assistants.
More recently, Schiano lost another member of his staff. Tom Kleinlein, who has served as Assistant Director of Athletics for Football Operations since 2003 has left to accept a similar position at Arizona State. Kleinlein was not a member of the coaching staff, but performed administrative functions.
Here's the new coaching staff that took the field on March 26th.
The Offense will continue to be led by Offensive Coordinator Craig Ver Steeg who was hired before the 2003 season. Ver Steeg has been coaching at the collegiate level since 1980 with stints at Utah, Illinois and with Da Chicago Bears. Ver Steeg's primary early responsibility will be to deal with a level of controversy at Quarterback. Two-year starter Ryan Hart has weaknesses that opponents are exploiting regularly, but has remained as starter despite backup Terrance Shawell coming off the bench several times in 2004. Redshirt Sophomore Mike Teel joins the mix this year and may compete for the starting position.
Kyle Flood will head up the Offensive Line. Since only three starters remain from last year, this is a good year for a new coach to come in and make his mark. At Delaware, Flood was Assistant Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator in addition to his duties as Offensive Line Coach. Flood takes over the Offensive Line duties from Ron Holder who has been dismissed after only one year on the job. This is Flood's first Division 1A job, but he is highly regarded and has had an impressive record as a 3 year OL Coach at Delaware and four years at Hofstra. Both schools were champions with impressive offenses. Flood is well known by New Jersey area players due to his recruiting work in the Northeast. Flood's Delaware Offensive Line allowed the team to rush for 167 yards per game, 3rd in the Atlantic 10. They gave up 19 sacks last year. Delaware was conference champions each year during Flood's tenure, and was Division 1-AA National Champion in 2003. During his time at Hofstra, Flood was Offensive Line coach, helping them reach the championships in four years. In 2001, Hofstra was among the top 10 teams nationally in passing, scoring and total offense. Flood will get to work with an impressive freshman class including Kevin Haslam and Dave McClain and last year's stud lineman Jeremy Zuttah. In 2005, Flood will benefit from three new players who will be able to start training in the spring. They are Penn State transfer Dan Mazan, Junior College Transfer Darnell Stapleton and McClain who graduated early.
Robert Jackson has been hired to coach the Rutgers Running Backs. Jackson has been at Illinois coaching the Wide Receivers since 1999 and was Recruiting Coordinator as well for the past 4 years. Four of Jackson's receivers at Illinois are now in the NFL. Jackson also spent time at Oregon State as Wide Receivers coach and Assistant Head Coach. Overall, Jackson has been coaching at the collegiate level since 1986. Since Jackson was a recruiting coordinator in Illinois, it is possible that recruiting in Big Ten territory may open up for Rutgers. Jackson inherits a deep and young crew of running backs featuring All-American Brian Leonard and some younger backs including Jean Beljour, Raymell Rice and Jerome Messam. Last year the running backs regressed, and only Leonard made a significant contribution at tailback. Many fans feel that Leonard would be more natural at fullback and that one of the other backs should start at tailback. With so many promising, young players in the stable, Jackson should have plenty to work with. The biggest question may be how well he works with the running backs since most of his past responsibility has been with wide receivers.
Rutgers already has a Wide Receivers coach. John McNulty will continue as their coach in his second year. Before joining Rutgers, McNulty coached Wide Receivers in the NFL at Dallas and Jacksonville. He started coaching at Michigan and at Connecticut in their Division 1-AA days. McNulty had a good year with both Chris Baker and star Tres Moses averaging over 13 yards per catch. This year he gets to work with Chris McClover and it is hoped that he can make progress with Shawn Tucker who has been limited by nagging injuries.
Joe Susan will remain as Tight Ends Coach as well as continuing his duties as Recruiting Coordinator. Susan is the only one of the on-field coaches remaining from Schiano's first year. Susan came to Rutgers off of an undefeated season as Head Coach of 1-AA Davidson College in 2000. Susan has been working with star Clark Harris for two years.
Greg Schiano has named himself as new Defensive Coordinator. This move is guaranteed to raise controversy, but if he is successful, this move should finally put to rest the mounting criticism of the Rutgers defense. Schiano would appear to have the experience for the job after a 20-5 record and a Sugar Bowl win in 2000 as Miami's Defensive Coordinator. Schiano also spent time as DB coach with the NFL Chicago Bears and at Penn State. His coaching career started with stints as a Rutgers and Penn State Graduate Assistant and assistant at Ramapo High School. Schiano has coached in seven bowl games, six with Penn State. Schiano takes over for Paul Ferraro who held the position since Schiano's start at Rutgers. Fans and Critics of Schiano should both be happy as this puts him either directly in the pilot seat or the hot seat. If the team doesn't improve quickly, the calls for Schiano's departure will become quite shrill.
Assistant Head Coach and Special Teams Coach Darren Rizzi is being moved from coaching the Running Backs to the Linebackers. Before joining Rutgers, Rizzi was Head Coach at New Haven. Prior to that, Rizzi held a variety of positions coaching on both sides of the ball, but primarily defense. Under Rizzi the Running Backs faltered last year, but Rizzi will be returning to the defense to work with linebackers William Beckford, Terry Bynes, Brad Cunningham, Will Gilkison and Devraun Thompson. He will be working with 2005 recruit Chris Quaye as well as last year's Chenry Lewis. Fans will hope that Rizzi's defensive experience is better utilized in this position.
Rizzi's primary problem may be that he is splitting his time significantly. The team might be better served if Rizzi could relinquish the Special Teams to another coach who is not so busy.
The irrepressible Chris Demarest returns for his second year as Secondary coach. Demarest has been coaching since 1992 with NC State, Florida State and Lehigh as well as a stint as Rutgers Graduate Assistant in 1989. At NC State, Demarest went to 4 consecutive bowls and worked with several future NFL draftees. While at Florida State, the Seminoles were National Champs in 1999 and went to the Sugar and Fiesta bowls. The Defensive Backs had plenty of setbacks in 2004 covering for frequent mistakes by the front seven and dealing with the loss of several players in an automobile accident. Talented senior Jarvis Johnson, while leading the team in tackles only had one interception on the year. Joe Porter and Ron Girault had break-out years and may turn out to be fine football players. Demarest will get to work with new recruits Glenn Lee and the McCourty brothers. With the depth at this position, Demarest has plenty of tools, and must get this young squad to perform significantly better.
Cary Godette has been hired to work with the Defensive Line. While Rutgers has had plenty of recruiting success on the Defensive Line, this has not translated to success on the field. Last year the Defensive Line was badly exposed, particularly in the area of containment against option offenses. Star recruit Nate Robinson has not been able to perform up to expectations. Godette has his work cut out for him. Fans are hoping to see Carl Howard take the field in 2005. Meanwhile, new recruit Gary Watts will join the team in the fall. Godette has been coaching since 1977. Over the past few years he has been an NFL DL assistant with Arizona, Carolina and Miami. He has coached various positions in the college ranks with Western Carolina, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and NC State and has coached in five college bowl games. If you can say anything about Godette, it's that he surely knows his way around the Carolinas.
Joining Godette in working with the DL will be Phil Galiano who will concentrate on the Defensive Ends. Galiano coached the Linebackers last year. Before that, Godette served as a Graduate Assistant at Rutgers as well as stints at Villanova, New Haven (under Head coach Darren Rizzi) and Dickinson since 2000. Galiano has little experience prior to Rutgers, and the Linebackers faltered badly with players such as Berkley Hutchinson failing to work out on the field or off. Since Galiano has been put on a fairly short leash, it is expected that he will not return to Rutgers after his contract runs out.
The new coaching staff got a late start putting plans into place for the start of Spring Practice. Improvements will be needed on both sides of the ball for Rutgers to regain or surpass the pace they were on before faltering last season.
It appears that Schiano has admitted the errors in hiring young, inexperienced coaches such as Holder and Galiano. Two of the other new 2004 hires, Chris Demarest and Phil Galiano are potentially on the chopping block next year if the Defense doesn't show improvement at their positions. The quick response to replacing Holder and Galiano may help to quiet those fans who feel that Schiano will not admit his mistakes.
Despite some significant breakdowns, particularly at QB, offensive production has improved significantly in the past two years under Offensive Coordinator Ver Steeg. With Schiano being busier with the defense, Ver Steeg may have more latitude to run the offense as he wishes. There are two experienced new assistants and some promising new players on the offensive line, so this may turn into a break-out year for the offense.
For good or for bad, the Defensive staff is now full of "Schiano Guys" with his Assistant Head Coach Rizzi at Linebacker and fellow Demarest on the Secondary. Godette becomes the oldest and most experienced member of the group. The entire defense needs an overhaul just as the coaching staff did. The players are already well conditioned, but there is plenty of room for improvement in technique and planning. The players need to make better use of their speed and strength. The defensive line must concentrate on technique, particularly in maintaining containment. The linebackers need to be tutored better on the fundamentals of tackling. The secondary needs to play more intelligently and keep the plays in front of them. It looks like Rutgers has the talent for success, but the preparation has been extremely poor and must improve significantly.
Probably the best news is that Jay Butler will remain with the team as Head Strength and Conditioning coach. Butler is probably one of the biggest unsung heros of the Schiano era. Under his guidance, the team has gotten significantly bigger and faster, and it appears that injuries are down from the previous administration. Butler was one of Schiano's first hires from 2001. He has been a conditioning coach at several schools since 1992. Prior to that he was a professional, playing in 1991 with the Giants. He played at Bucknell during Schiano's senior year.
Finally, recruiting may be assisted with the new additions. With Rutgers scheduled to play Big Ten teams once a year for the next few years, Robert Jackson may be able to lure some Midwest talent to the banks. Kyle Flood is well known among New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland linemen, and may be able to lure some talent as well.
Say what you will about the Rutgers past. Schiano has now completely reshaped the coaching staff, and on paper at least this group would appear to have a better chance than last year's group. If the new Rutgers coaches can't launch Rutgers into football success, then that may truly mark the time to reconsider the man at the top...and possibly his boss as well.
Mike and the Big Dog LLC